Remember back in January when President Biden asked OSHA to do something about COVID-19 and the workforce. Well, OSHA responded on March 12 of this year with a National Emphasis Program (NEP) with enforcement on companies at which large number of workers face serious risk of COVID-19 infections. The NEP also prioritized whistleblower protection enforcement for workers who face retaliation for reporting unsafe or unhealthy workplace conditions.
The enforcement is designed to target high-risk industries in the manufacturing and healthcare sector. The program supplements OSHA’s nonprogrammed COVID-19 inspections initiated in response to complaints, referrals, and severe incident reports. The directive describes policies and procedures to ensure that employees in high-hazard industries or work tasks are protected from the hazard of contracting SARS-CoV-2 which is the cause of COVID-19. The efforts address unprogrammed COVID-19-related activities including complaints, referrals, and severe incident reports.
Primary target industries of the directive (DIR 2021-01 (CPL-03)) include ambulance and home healthcare services; correctional facilities; department stores, groceries, supermarkets, and restaurants; healthcare and long-term care facilities; meatpacking and poultry processing facilities; and warehouses and storage facilities. Secondary non-healthcare industries targeted by the NEP include establishments in the construction, critical manufacturing, energy, food and agriculture, and transportation and logistics sectors.
OSHA Responds with Industry Call to Actions
As workers resume coming back to work to a new “normal”, many are still stressed or have anxiety issues about the employer safety and health culture. The program is created to help alleviate these concerns substantially by reducing or eliminating coronavirus exposure for the targeted industry workers by making it easier to raise concerns for employers failing to protect them. It seems the directive is necessary because the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) recently faulted OSHA for reducing the number of on-site inspections and receiving an increased number of health and safety complaints since the onset of the pandemic.
Applicable standards for COVID-19 investigations include occupational injury and illness recordkeeping and reporting (29 CFR Part 1904), PPE (29 CFR §1910.132), respiratory protection (§1910.134), sanitation (§1910.1410), accident prevention signs and tags (§1910.145), and access to employee exposure and medical records (§1910.1020), as well as the General Duty Clause §5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970.
Environmental, Health, and Safety People, Processes, and Technology Respond to the Quest
EHS departments, executive management, and employees within the targeted manufacturing and healthcare industries must now support the following,
- multi-language guidelines for implementing workplace hazard assessments
- ensuring control measures to limit the spread of the virus
- policies for employee absences for potentially infected workers
Many of the directives to be successfully implemented require a next generation EHS solution, like ComplianceQuest, to be leveraged on the journey to this transformation of corporate value and safety. Support for implementing anonymous and anti-retaliation procedures to protect employees who report health and safety observations, incidents, and near-misses is a must. Interoperability with other business systems such as ERP, HR, and asset management are needed to address the recommendations, data insights, integrated business processes for the training of employee protection.
One of the most severe hurdles in establishing a safety culture is not more regulations but getting employee adoption of the safety culture at organizations. Having a system that supports bi-directional communication and feedback such as an easy-to-use portal can significantly help in this endeavor.
All the different data sources of assets, business systems, connected devices coming into a centralized next-gen EHS solution allows for enhanced analytics to be deployed to prevent future incidents while better predicting and prescribing solutions to issues going forward.
No longer is the EHS solution a cost center used by the EHS department and the few employee training sessions for compliance reporting. The new mandates and crisis we face in the future has made the new “normal” a management imperative heard from every boardroom. Join the digital transformation voyage to operational and safety culture excellence.
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